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Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
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Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Petzl Sum'tec Ice Axe: For The Weight-Conscious Climber
Posted on: February 8, 2011
Weight: 485g (52cm); 505g (59cm)
The Piolet is arguably an alpinist's most important tool. What other piece of gear do you hold for so many hours, its familiar grip like the handshake of trusted partner? It was with more than a little trepidation that I moved on from my companion of many years to begin a new relationship with the Petzl Sum'tec ice axe. When I picked up the new tool, I was relieved by the comfort and confidence it inspired. During field testing, I found a few glitches in the tool's design, but am pleased with its performance overall.
I used this axe for the several months in the North Cascades and European Alps. While most of the climbing I did with the axe falls into the classical mountaineering category, I did use the tool on a number of ice and mixed routes in the Alps.
The Chere Couloir on Mt. Blanc du Tacul in Chamonix is a quintessential nine-pitch ice and mixed route. The couloir presents climbers both 50-degree neve on the approach and several pitches of steep water ice and moderate mixed climbing. When I used the axe in Piolet panne or "low dagger" position on the more moderate sections of the climb, the Sum'tec's curved pick slid nicely into the ice and felt extremely solid. On the steeper sections, the axe swung much like a technical ice tool. While it didn't perform as well as a dedicated ice tool on water ice, it certainly performed better than any other mountaineering-specific axe I have ever used.
The Sum'tec comes standard with a recurved "Alpix" pick that climbs well and feels strong and burly while drytooling. The pick is interchangeable, allowing me to switch from a classically curved pick to an ice climbing pick. While walking on low-angle, yet icy terrain, I felt secure because of the Sum'tec's sharp butt spike that bites into water ice with a confident authority.
While the axe is fairly light, it is the weight distribution that really impresses me. The tool feels as if all its weight is concentrated in the head. With a curved aluminum shaft and a stainless steel head, this tool feels solid in the hand and swings like champ.
An adjustable pinkie hook that Petzl calls a "Trigrest" slides up and down the shaft and locks in place at any point. When I slide the Trigrest to the axe's head, the shaft is easily plunged into snow for a solid self-belay. When the Trigrest is moved to a point just above the spike, the Sum'tec climbs alpine and mixed routes extremely well. The curved shaft offers plenty of clearance for my knuckles when swinging on steep terrain. Petzl has tilted the adze down a bit, which, when combined with the curvature of the shaft, helps to direct that shaft straight down into the snow.
The head of the axe also has a flat surface perfect for smashing in snow pickets and a large oval-shaped hole for using the axe as an anchor. While it's not the lightest tool available, the 52-centimeter axe weighs a respectable 485g (just over one pound).
There are a few minor complaints I have with the tool. While the Trigrest works great 90 percent of the time, a few times I've struggled to slide it over the curved section of the shaft. Eventually it always goes, but several times it's taken a bit more coaxing than I had expected. The sharpness of the spike, which works so well on ice, meant I've often had to find something solid to rest the axe on when adjusting the Trigrest.
The other thing I find peculiar is the differing strength ratings of the shaft and pick. The aluminum shaft is a type "T" for "Technical," meaning it's stronger and recommended for technical ice climbing and drytooling. However, the pick is only "B"-rated for "Basic" and is recommended for glacial travel and ski-mountaineering. This seems an odd match to me, though after a bit of research, I found that this match-up is common. What it means in a practical sense is that the pick won't hold up as well to torquing in cracks as a "T"-rated pick, but at least it's replaceable.
In all, this is an amazing all-around ice axe. It is ideal for any weight-conscious climber who needs a do-it-all tool in more technical alpine terrain. Like any solid partner, the Sum'tec is faithful, reliable and game for whatever adventure you have in mind.
Pros: lightweight tool that feels solid in the hand; great swing weight makes it climb ice well; replaceable pick; super sharp spike; adjustable pinky hook/
Cons: pinkie hook can be stubborn at times; "B"-rated pick.
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